The True Meaning of Home

Jonty chatted with the South Afreakin's creator, Robyn Paterson.

How did the show originate?

The show is based on my parents, Helene and Gordon Paterson and on the story of our immigration from South Africa to NZ. I play both, so switching between them throughout the piece so it's a monologue performed as a duologue. The show started as a ten minute piece in the 2012 Short and Sweet Festival when I won Best Independent Theatre company. Then I performed it in the 2014 Sydney Short and Sweet Festival where I won Best Newcomer. I spent the next two years extending it to a 75 minute piece that I then decided to take to the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where we had a great response, sold out and won a couple of awards.

Has developing the show changed your views on your family and the identity of home?

I think it's really homed in the idea that for some people, the older you get, home isn't found in places anymore but it's found more within the people that you surround yourself with. My family and I still feel very much like we're South African, even having been here for 24 years, but I think "home" is now felt when we're with each other and our extended family as opposed to a place.

Do you think the immigrant experience has changed since your parents moved from South Africa to New Zealand?

I'm not sure if there's a universal immigrant experience, as an immigrant is not a type of person. I think the feelings of displacement and leaving your home are universal and will always be felt deeply by those who experience it, whether it was yesterday, 24 years ago or 100 years ago.

What has been the most difficult part of developing the show?

The most difficult part was cultivating two completely different characters that the audience believed in for a full hour. I doubted I had the ability to create and sustain that illusion of a real 65 year old couple and I feared that I would just look like a 30 year old blonde woman on stage pretending to be a 65 year old man and woman. But after the first few performances, the response from the audience proved that anxiety was unfounded.

Were there any shows / writers that provided inspiration?

I saw an underground comedy duo while I was living in New York and between the two of them they played ten different characters of a Jewish family at a dinner party. They were brilliant. I remember thinking that's so simple and clever and I want so do something like that.

What reaction are you hoping the show gets?

Of course I hope that people like it but I don't write theatre purely to entertain.

I always like to make people laugh but I also like making people think and evoke some sort of response.

If people come and simply take away a good night of entertainment, then that's great. If people can relate to it and if I can cultivate some sort of emotional response from them, whether it's relating to idea of loss, or leaving everything you ever knew and starting again; or the feeling that you just don't fit in, then that's even better. It's all there. It's up to the audience what they'd like to take away from it.

The South Afreakins is on at Basement 15 - 19 Aug.